Speech: Easter Commemoration 2022 – Portlaw, Co. Waterford

Go raibh mile maith agaibh a chairde, as ucht an cuireadh bhieth libh inniu i bPort Lách. Is mór an onóir domsa labhairt ag an gcomóradh seo. 

Its a great honour to have been asked to speak at the Portlaw Easter Commemoration and to stand here where our dearly departed comrade Jackie Whelan so often stood. We remember Prish Morrissey who passed away last March and who we also miss here today. They stood by the Republic, even when it was no easy thing to do. I know they are greatly missed by their families and by their comrades here, and we are all thinking of them both today. 

We think also of Cathleen Ní Fhathaigh who was lost to us earlier this year, and send our love to her family and our support to her comrades in the Carrick on Suir RFB and across the wider republican family. 

Easter is a special time for Republicans. We gather at this time of the year, as people gather all across Ireland, to remember those who fought and died for Irish freedom.

We come together to honour those who struck for freedom in Easter Week 1916 and in every generation since.

We recommit ourselves to the cause of the independence, sovereignty and unity of Ireland and to a 32-County socialist republic based on liberty, equality and solidarity.

This year marks the centenary of the Irish Civil War, which might more accurately be termed the Irish Counter-Revolution. In recent weeks we marked one hundred years since the end of British rule in Waterford, with the taking of Dungarvan Castle by the IRA on March 4th 1922 followed soon after by the taking of the infantry barracks at Waterford. 

The ending of British rule in Waterford was hard fought and hard won. IRA volunteers, members of Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin activists, Gaelic Leaguers, old Fenians and members of the Gaelic Athletic Association all put their shoulder to the wheel in support of the national movement – in support of Ireland’s freedom. 

One hundred years ago IRA volunteers had an opportunity to breathe and to take stock, but there was no opportunity to relax or retire from the fight. They knew the fight was not over, that the apparent victory was imperfect. Connolly had given a clear warning to the Citizens Army in 1916.  He said “in the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.”

Ireland was newly divided by Britain’s Government of Ireland Act and by the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

In the Six Counties the nationalist population was subjected to a vicious pogrom led by the B Specials and Royal Irish Constabulary.

Inthe 26 Counties many people believed Michael Collins when he said the Treaty gave Ireland the ‘freedom to achieve freedom’.

However, it soon became clear that, as Connolly had predicted, men were getting into power who would do nothing to undermine their new power base.

The Free State became a vehicle for those who had either opposed or stood aside from the revolution – big business, landed interests, the Catholic Hierarchy.

Urged on by inducements and threats from the British, Free State forces bombarded the Four Courts at the end of June 1922 and began the Civil War. 

For the Irish nation it was an immense tragedy. Irish Republicans saw all their hopes of a free, unitedand socially just Ireland dashed.

Nonetheless they continued the fight for freedom. Thousands suffered imprisonment.

Seventy seven republicans were executed officially in Free State prisons.

Many more were murdered having been captured in large-scale military operations by Free State troops using British guns, adopting Britain’s tactics, and in many cases answering to British officers. We think of Commandant Tom Keating who was shot, captured and left to slowly die from his wounds. The barbarity of the Free State campaign against the Republic has never been answered for its modern day apologists within the southern political establishment. 

Its fitting that we take time to remember and acknowledge  especially the role of republican women:

Cumann na mBan rejected the Treaty; all six women TDs voted against it; the Free State imprisoned far more republican women than the British did.

Partition unleashed what Connolly had predicted as a ‘carnival of reaction’. Women who had dreamed of freedom, who had fought for freedom now found themselves subject to a deeply reactionary state, where the entire apparatus of that state seemed fixated on controlling women, denying them their rights, and undermining their power and ignoring their contribution to society – a situation that would last for many, many decades. 

In spite of all, the desire for liberty remained and the republican ideal survived.

As Constance Markiewicz put it: “while Ireland is not free I remain a rebel, unconverted and unconvertible. There is no word strong enough for it. I am pledged as a rebel, an unconvertible rebel, to the one thing – a free and independent Republic”

The Movement was rebuilt. There would be another day.

Partition not only divided our island and our people. It created two conservative states and economies, controlled and run in the interests of privileged elites, North and South. The vision of the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme as betrayed. Workers were to be exploited by new, native masters – while the wealth of the nation would be squandered not by absent British aristocrats but by a new Irish elite. 

Inequality was at the heart of the two states and we continue to live with that legacy.

The division of Ireland has held back our potential for too long.

There is now a real opportunity to shape a better, more prosperous, more equal future.

We now have the means to achieve an economically strong, socially just United Ireland.

There is now a democratic process which allows everyone to participate in planning and preparation for constitutional change.

This facilitates a peaceful transition to a United Ireland that belongs to all. Provision for a unity referendum is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Every day, developments at home and abroad are leading to the holding of such a referendum. The post-pandemic world faces new economic challenges. This island can no longer sustain two separate tax regimes, legal systems, economies and health and education systems. Many would argue that it never could. 

All-Ireland integration is vital for the  development of public services, investment, economic development, social inclusion and diversity.

Unity benefits all our people, north and south, unlocking the potential of this island.

A United Ireland will receive the support and goodwill of the international community.

Unity is central to building a modern, inclusive, fair society and a country which can play its full part in the world.

A Citizens’ Assembly can and should play a major role ahead of a referendum on a united Ireland – setting out a clear pathway for a new, United Ireland prior to a vote.

The Irish Government must stop prevaricating and establish a Citizens Assembly to create a democratic foundation to prepare for a referendum on unity.

2022 marks 50 years since the collapse of the old Stormont regime in 1972. It was a regime built on foundations of discrimination, sectarianism and inequality.

Today we are in a very different place. The political landscape in the North has changed considerably in recent years and republicans have been central to driving that change.

Further change is on the way. Next month will see elections to the Assembly in the North. 

This election is about the future, about the next generation and what people, from whatever background or tradition, can achieve if we work together. 

Ireland is changing and now is the time to face the world as a place that is moving forward, confident and ready for the future.

People got a glimpse in recent months of what is possible from an Assembly and an Executive that gets a chance to deliver.

The first thing that Michelle O’Neill did when the DUP walked away from the Executive was to convene a meeting of party leaders to get work done.

And it worked – the Assembly passed legislation on climate, housing, on women’s rights, the cost-of-living crisis.

This was matched by initiatives by Executive  ministers, despite the actions of a Tory government constantly undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

Imagine a full term of that sort of leadership and that sort of delivery.

That is what Sinn Féin is going to make happen.

We will work with others to build a new future in a new, better Ireland.

After 5th May Sinn Féin is committed to getting the Assembly and Executive back up and running without delay.

We want to build a partnership government.

We want the opportunity to lead, not just in the Assembly and Executive but across Ireland.

We are determined that in the time ahead Sinn Féin will lead a government in Dublin.  

Other political parties may talk about unity in the far off distance, but they have had a hundred years to try undo partition. Not only have the failed, but they failed to even try.

Waterford has its part to play in delivering on real political change. The message must go out loud and clear – if we want Irish unity, if we want an Irish republic worthy of the name – where workers and families come before vulture funds and speculators –  then we need to elect Sinn Féin to government. 

Sinn Féin is planning to run three candidates in the next General Election. It is a hugely ambitious plan, but we are determined to keep step with the people and with the huge demand for change and for a return to Republican principles. 

Success will require all shoulders at the wheel and I would appeal to everyone here to get involved. As Bobby Sands wrote  “everyone has a part to play; no part is too big or too small.”

Irish republicanism has always been internationalist in nature. We have benefitted from the goodwill of supporters abroad and we have never been found wanting when asked to stan in solidarity with struggles for freedom and equality in other parts of the world. 

It is fitting that we would send our support and solidarity to the peoples of Ukraine and Palestine this Easter, as both continue to live under attack from powerful neighbours that seek to destroy and dominate them. 

The Irish people have been horrified in recent weeks by the illegal and unjust invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the attendant slaughter of civilians. Many of us have also been deeply struck by the violence unleashed by Israel against Palestinian civilians in recent weeks – which is just the latest in their decades-long campaign to deny Palestinian nationhood and usurp territory. 

As republicans and anti-imperialists we say very clearly that no country should be subject to the kind of military aggression faced by Palestine or Ukraine. 

The international community must press for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and for an end to Israel’s apparent impunity for the crimes of annexation, collective punishment and apartheid. 

There are those among the elites who have cynically sought to hijack the strong empathy of the Irish people for Ukraine, by seeking to undermine Irish military neutrality.

While we will always call out oppression and send our solidarity and support to those fighting oppression, we cannot confuse this with the demands by some within the southern political establishment for Ireland to join an international military alliance, or to support the imperialist interventions of some countries in their former colonies. 

This is a clear affront to the wishes of the Irish people who, in opinion poll after opinion poll have shown clear support for military neutrality.

Sinn Féin believes there is now a responsibility on the government to support calls for a referendum to have Irish military neutrality enshrined in the constitution.

The opportunities for moving to a new United Ireland have never been so great.

Real political, social and economic change on this island is within our grasp.

The old certainties are gone.

In the North, the perpetual unionist political majority has ended.

In the South, the grip of the conservative parties is significantly diminished.

Sinn Féin is on the rise.

Now is the time to build a new Ireland.

An Ireland that will be a fitting tribute to the patriots we honour today.

An Ireland that will be a modern, progressive and fair country, fit for all who live here.

Irish Republicans in 2022 are as determined as those who have gone before us to realise the vision of the 1916 Proclamation – an independent, united Ireland and a real republic built on the foundation stones of equality and social justice for all citizens.

Tá uallach mór oibre le dhéanamh a chairde, agus beimíd ag braith ar a chéile chun ár dtionscadail stairiúl a chur i gcrích. 

Beirimís bua a chairde!

Up the Republic!!

%d bloggers like this: